Chapter 4: Fire in the Hole

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“You’re going to attack that ship?” I haven’t heeded the captain’s orders to leave and I’m still standing by his side at the wheel. Although we were alone just a few seconds ago, the crew’s now clamoring around us after hearing Butler in the crow’s nest ringing the ship’s bell.

“Attack, capture, and rob. That’s correct. Now, get out of the way before you get hurt. We’re gaining on them quickly and if we’re lucky, they won’t notice us until we’re on top of them. The Dutch put up a good fight, so lock yourself in and wait for me.”

He ushers me toward the ladder and waits at the top until I start to descend. “Henry! Bring my gear,” Kincade yells, but the young boy’s already running with the missing jacket and weapons.

While the captain’s busy getting dressed, I take the opportunity to slip around the exterior of the cabin into a nook that’s out of view from above. We’re still miles away from the other ship and even if I only stick around for the prelude, this may be the most action I’ll ever get to see. I’m not going to waste any of it hiding in my room.

“Correct course, Mister Till and full speed ahead,” I hear the captain bellow from above.

The excitement is palpable and the men know their roles well. Apart from a few, key commands, they need no instructions, but rather go about their preparations.

Just like this afternoon, three men climb the masts and unfurl the canvas pieces to their full capacity. Their partners below then adjust the sails’ angles to maximize the wind captured while maintaining the right course. They expertly tie off the ropes with complex knots before running to the next task.

Others open the porthole shutters and roll the cannons to their ready position. Disappearing below, they emerge with the accompanying metal balls, struggling against their weight. The men drop the round, black objects on the deck with a thunk before making a tidy pyramid at the base of each cannon. They proceed to roll out small barrels I assume to contain the powder and place those at arms’ length, as well.

The big African they call Femi brings topside a large bundle wrapped in burlap. Laying it on a crate, he unwraps it to reveal more than a dozen different weapons. The men clamor around the forged iron implements of death like children around new toys. They each choose their favorite from amongst the swords, axes, and pikes. They test out the feel of the wooden shafts in their hands and grin. Retreating to their stations scattered around the deck, I see them checking their personal pistols and knives before tucking them safely in their belts.

Finally, the crew snuff out all but a few of the lanterns, leaving the ship in an eerie darkness.  The light of the moon is no longer useful because of the increasing number of dark clouds overhead. I can only tell the navigators are taking measurements of our speed when a clear voice echoes into the silence. He counts up until finally reaching twelve.

“Very good,” I hear the captain express his pleasure at the news. He must still be on the platform above me, dutifully waiting out the attack’s commencement. While he’s under the impression that I’m safely tucked away in the cabin, everyone who can see me continues to ignore me.

Right now, I’m completely fine with this.

The anticipation makes my heart beat faster and I’m already regretting the moment when I will have to take cover. Until then, I enjoy the salty smell of the cool air billowing around me, with not much more than the sound of the vessel cutting through the waves. Closing my eyes, I let the experience lull my nerves.

I don’t realize until it’s too late that Henry is standing in front of me.

When I open my eyes, I jump from my crouching position at the unexpected sight. The boy, however, smiles and places one finger against his lips.

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